Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Adrift In Los Angeles

It was strange to be adrift in Los Angeles. I arrived on Wednesday and took a taxi from the airport to the Air B’n’B where I was staying. I should have got an Uber - it would have been cheaper for one thing, but I’d never done it before, just downloaded the app, and I believed it when it said the driver wouldn’t be there for forty five minutes. Subsequently I’ve found that there’ll be a driver there within three minutes but I didn’t know how it worked and I was tired, so I took a cab.

Being the callow rustic that I am I asked the driver if it was possible to pay with a card. I was travel weary and I had a flashback to the days when cash was king and nobody I knew had a bank card. We’re talking about some time in the early eighties here. Actually I never had a bank card until the end of the nineties. Before then my bank account teetered on the edge of an overdraft and I subsisted from week to week or months to month on whatever money I had in my trouser pocket, cash I’d earned from playing gigs or recording desperate French garage bands.

So I regressed, asked if I could pay with a card, and the driver said sure, as long as I gave him a good tip - reason enough to give him a very small tip or no tip at all, but I gave him a decent tip which was more than he deserved though it shamed him into helping me with my luggage when we got to the Air B’n’B in West Hollywood.

The place was one of those tiny twenties or thirties studio apartment bungalows, very Spanish, it put me in mind of The Day Of The Locusts,  one big room opening off a courtyard. The room was furnished with a bed, a chair and a tiny writing desk. It had a bathroom and a small kitchen off to one side. The kitchen was full of a large fridge. There was a tiny fold out table which would have been charming if it hadn’t been almost totally taken up with one of those Keurig coffee makers and hemmed in by a huge microwave perched on a stool with a toaster sitting on top of it. There was a sink, a few cupboards containing basic kitchen stuff and a gas cooker. None of this was of use to me during my stay because I never found anywhere I could buy groceries.

Once I was installed I sat in the room for a while wondering what to do with myself. Obviously I was going to do some of my best work ever while I was here - just me sitting on the chair with my acoustic guitar, my iPad and notebooks spread out on the desk - but for now I needed to eat so I looked at Yelp and found a restaurant one block away. I went out with some trepidation - I was sure I was going to be held up and robbed at gunpoint because I’d gone backwards in time to the days when these neighborhoods were ungentrified and not at all safe. It’s a long term habit - the first time we arrived in New York the band were all wondering what to do. It was pretty obvious to me that we’d head out to Max’s Kansas City and catch the Velvet Underground. Except it was 1978.

I found a place to eat one block away. It was pretty good and I didn’t get mugged either walking there or back. When I got back to the bungalow I didn’t know what to do so I watched a detective thing that I really couldn’t follow, listened to the Archers and fell asleep. I felt some sort of vague obligation to go out somewhere groovy but this being Los Angeles it probably would have taken an hour or two to get there so the feeling soon receded and I gave myself up to doing absolutely nothing in an uncluttered room.

I spent most of the next day walking around because I couldn’t think or anywhere I particularly wanted to go in an Uber. Do you go somewhere in an Uber? Or do you just Uber? Has it become a verb yet like Hoover? Or is it an Uber ride? I walked through neighborhoods of renovated bungalows, marveling at the plant life. I found my way to a coffee place, Groundwork’s on Sunset Boulevard.

I went to the Psychiatry An Industry Of Death Museum on Sunset Boulevard. I’d seen it before but never had chance to go in. It was a harrowing experience. The museum is founded and run by the Citizens Commission On Human Rights. They make the point that there is no medical or scientific basis to psychiatry and society’s belief in it is founded on a misguided supposition that psychiatry’s most eminent representatives are somehow experts in their field, even though it can be argued that they’ve never actually cured anyone, just made diagnosis upon diagnosis and prescribed a lot of very expensive drugs. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

I went back to the bungalow, did a Skype interview with a New Zealand radio presenter Kim Hill, who has a reputation for giving interviewees a hard time. We talked about my book, A Dysfunctional Success. She wanted to know how I remembered everything considering i was a drunk a lot of the time. I pointed out that much of the narrative took place in my childhood and at the age of nine or ten I certainly wasn’t a drunk, and for the rest I sat on walls and hung out in doorways, took notes and concentrated until the memories came back.

After the interview I got out my guitar and notebook but I didn’t do my best work, I fell asleep instead.

The next day I met my friend Jessica Espeleta for lunch over in Silverlake. We were wandering down the street in search of a coffee place when a car pulled up driven by a Mexican looking guy called Mark who was a friend of Jessica’s. He parked up and joined us for coffee. Jessica told me Mark was a good guy and had played with the Beastie Boys. It was Money Mark. I tried not to be star-struck but you know how it is. I’m sure he had no idea who I was and I doubt if he would ever have heard of me so I was cool, just a friend of Jessica’s. He was warm and friendly and we had a conversation about developments in electronic music instruments and how some of them are unfortunately just one trick ponies.


He told us about a mechanical electronic musical instrument he was working on involving piano rolls triggering synthesizers and took us to his studio just around the corner for a demonstration. He showed us some huge organ pipes he’d salvaged and some simple sound generators he was making for kids using magnets salvaged from old microwaves. We talked about guitars, and touring and stuff, and he seemed concerned that I wouldn’t be seeing my wife for a long time. What a nice man - it was worth the trip just for that afternoon.

Me, Jessica and Money Mark

I Ubered my way all over Los Angeles. Apart from Jessica I didn’t see anyone else I knew so most of my conversations were with Uber drivers. I was lucky because they were all friendly and disposed to talk about stuff - the Kinks, Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation, the odiousness of Donald Trump, healthcare in America... we covered all these subjects and more.

I spent my last day in Los Angeles wondering what to do with myself and basically killing time. I was booked on a fourteen hour flight leaving at eleven o’clock on Sunday night, arriving at nine thirty on Tuesday morning. What happened to Monday? I’ve missed a day and that’s the second time it’s happened. It’s just as well I don’t like Mondays. Actually that’s not true - Mondays are loaded with promise, they’re the start of a new week - anything could happen and some of it might even be good. It’s that Boomtown Twats record I don’t like - Tell Me More... No, please don’t, just put a sock in it Bob.

I rode to the airport in an Uber that had been used to transport the body of a murder victim. I was overwhelmed by the stench of a powerful toilet cleaner mixed with stagnant water and an undertow of something deeply sinister and a lot less wholesome. The driver was a less than friendly Latin American guy with a bad taste in pop radio. He kept switching from one vacuous pop station to another. They were  all playing the same track, the one based on What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor that I discussed in my last post. I think he was using this all-consuming blandness to blank out the memory of the terrible thing he’d done. By the time we arrived at the airport I felt quite queasy.

Friday, 2 November 2018

High Flying, Airport Dining, Popular Music That Nobody Likes & A Real Life Roadie From Days Of Yore

There’s nothing like dining at the airport to give you a renewed appreciation of life outside the airport. I’m flying Alaskan Air from New York to Los Angeles and there’s no food on the flight which is probably just as well because I imagine it would be some sort of exotic marine life dish dredged up from the Article Ocean, not that I’d be eating it - rule number two: avoid eating on the plane whenever possible. Rule number one is drink as much water as you possibly can. 

I might actually be doing Alaskan Air a disservice here. I was checked in by a flamboyant and quite lovely African American lady - I told her I’d never been to Alaska and she confided that neither had she. ‘You’re shaking my faith in the airline’ I said, and she reassured me that she’d been to Los Angeles a whole bunch of times. And I felt wonderfully reassured. I love Americans - real Americans, not those fake Americans you see cluttering up the news these days.

I got through the security check with very little trouble - they let me go through the TSA pre-check, even though I’m not registered  - a bit of charm and a reasonable attitude still seems to go a long way. That and being an elegantly dressed silver haired old buffer. The zips in my Mexican boots set off the detector so I had to take them off and put them on the conveyor belt, and that was a good thing I think because it drew attention away from the fuzz boxes and delay pedal concealed in my carry on, and the fact that I’d forgotten to put my toothpaste in a plastic bag.

I’m in a place called Ruby Tuesday’s. I know... but there’s really not a lot of choice. The grill was broken but they were still serving salads so I had the very salty and presumably pre-grilled grilled chicken served on a balderdash of krispy kale bedded down with over-cooked lightly steamed broccoli and some very cold and clammy sun dried tomatoes. I wish they’d managed to get them in the tin before the sun went in. There was a Caesar dressing in a separate container too, but I don’t want to think about that. 

To drink I selected the Nestle Pure Life (Pro-Life?) Purified Water (Enhanced With Minerals For Taste). Who knows what ghastly scenes this champion of recycled waters might have been party to? It may have even been through the President of the United States for all I know, pissed out onto Russian prostitutes, used to flush the presidential khazi... Why! The very Queen of England herself may have once graced it by bathing in it. But boy oh boy, these mineral enhancements taste good!

I wish we could do the experience without musical accompaniment. Places like this always play that incredibly popular music that I’m pretty sure absolutely nobody likes. A hint of heroism, a dollop of soul. There are very few tunes - possibly three basic models - and two of them have their origins in What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor, though you wouldn’t necessarily know that because this music is created by career-driven professionals. So we’re in safe hands there. 

They get a strange species of teenage baby to sing these things. They’re bred for vocal nasality and raised in cages to keep them pure. When they get too old to perform they’re slaughtered and served up as burgers at music industry awards ceremonies and sometimes at White House dinner parties.

This plane’s okay. I’ve got the whole row to myself. I’m like a king, sitting here in sumptuous leatherette, five miles above the American Midwest with an empty seat on either side of me. I’m looking forward to Los Angeles. I stayed in a West Hollywood hotel for almost a whole week a few years ago. It was a boutique hotel full of people who looked as though they were trying to break into the fashion business. I was a deep disappointment to them - I could tell by the way they looked at me. It was as though my grubby middle aged presence was sullying their dream of a glamorous utopia. I felt like Bill Murray in Lost In Translation.

My room was on the eleventh floor. I’d share the elevator with the aspiring, the beautiful and the just plain grotesque. One morning the elevator stopped on the seventh floor and two wannabe supermodels got in. They looked at me with withering disdain and I looked them up and down. ‘Hello girls,’ I said. I pushed the lobby button and the lift said Going Down!

I spent my days riding the city buses and caught a cold that did nothing for my personal glamour. This time I’m going for a degree of sophistication - I was going to hire a car but the Air b n b super host of the cloistered Hollywood bungalow I’m renting advised me not too so I’ve downloaded the Uber app instead. A rental car would have cost me twenty three dollars a day - I imagine I’ll spend more than that on Uber rides but it’ll be nice not to have to have to think about parking.

I’m flying in the face of all my former traveling habits - no laptop, just an iPad, and in line with the latest airline policy on musical instruments I’m checking both guitars - my acoustic in its usual fortress of a case and the electric in a new  fiberglass Gator case which may or may not withstand having the baggage truck driven over it.  The rest of my trousseau is in a carry-on case, so I’m just like all the other passengers now with their enormous suitcases full of bricks that they can hardly lift into the overheads. I’ve finally joined the luggage tribe - it’s a great feeling to finally belong.

I brought the Telecaster this time. I’ve been using the Microfrets which turns playing into a mixture of poetry and abstract expressionism. But there are so many flights involved on this trip that I decided on the Telecaster because I couldn’t bear to have anything happen to the Microfrets. It’s a shame because that was the guitar I played last time I was in Australia, thirty eight years ago. It was a lot younger and less battle scarred in those day. It actually sustained its first ever injury at a show in Melbourne back in 1980. I threw the guitar aloft, said goodnight, and as I left the stage I realised I’d left the guitar in mid-air. I turned round in time to see our roadie, a magnificent relic of the road called Keith, run from the opposite side of the stage and catch the guitar centre stage as the band hit the final crash. He was so shocked he dropped it and  the back cracked. I didn’t mind - we repaired it with a strip of gaffa tape - the good stuff you used to be able to get back then - and it stayed like that for years until the tape wore off and I had to glue it to stop a weirdly disagreeable vibration.

Keith was a classic roadie - rail thin despite a prodigious alcohol intake, with a nose and chin that practically met in front of a mouth that spilled various pronouncements in a thick Birmingham accent. I remember seeing him slide down a dressing room wall one night, hopelessly drunk and slurring:
‘Fuckin’ hell we’ve got to get out of here - it’s goin’ t’ fuckin’ kill me.
The tour manager burst through the door - ‘Ten minutes, you’re on in ten minutes!’
Keith instantly straightened up.
‘Right! I’ll get these guitars on and put the standbys up!’

We were working for him, we were his band.
‘You’re not the best band I’ve ever been with, but you’re certainly not the worst...’
He’d worked with Slade, The Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, The Glitter Band, Roy Wood’s Wizard... When pressed and plied with alcohol, and if he was in a good mood, he had many a lurid tale to tell. He was usually the soul of discretion, the original what goes on the road stays on the road... He often had articles of lady’s underwear flying from the radio aerial of the equipment truck. Yes - we traveled in separate vehicles, band and tour manager in a minibus, crew and equipment, which would quite often include a massive PA system and lights, in a truck.

Keith was a prima donna. Occasionally one of us would upset him with a chance remark or a less than stellar performance and he’d leave the tour. It never lasted - he’d be back within a couple of hours and there’d be hugs and tears and he was back on the job. And every night as I was about to walk out onto the stage, with the band already in the groove, he’d hand me a half pint of gin and vermouth which I’d down in one go. The force of it would blow my head off as we hit the first chorus and by then we we’re flying.

It’s all a bit Saxondale but it’s a story that demands to be told just the once. I wasn’t always a silver haired buffer - once upon a time I was a rock n roll star.

Albeit briefly. 

I’ll shut up now.

The silver haired old buffer with his Micofrets guitar (photo by Ted Barron)

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

This Is Really Happening

I put out a new album last April, Construction Time & Demolition and set off on a sixty date tour to promote the thing. Before that I toured as the bass player for my wife, the great Amy Rigby. Six weeks and four different drummers in the UK and America, and afterwards almost four and a half days off before I started my own tour. People have told me I’m overdoing it, that I’m working too hard, and for once I think people might have been right.

I managed the first leg of the tour without much difficulty though I don’t know why they call it a leg - why not a bicep or a testicle? Toronto was dusty, Memphis was freezing. I packed up after the last show in New York City and drove straight to the airport to fly to England for the UK leg, arm or bicep.

The weather in Scotland was vile and I contracted a cold that got worse.I did two sold out shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh with laryngitis. I got away with it by gargling with soluable aspirin, six at a time in a glass of water. It takes down the swelling, brings the voice back, and as long as you don’t swallow you won’t end up in the emergency room. I consumed a jar of very expensive Manuka honey in the space of two days and got through an entire bottle of echinacea. Two days later my voice was fine again.

I woke up in a Premier Inn in Worcester to a text from my daughter, Luci, asking me to call her immediately. I thought it would be news about my mother, another fall, another hospitalisation, but it wasn’t, it was her mother, Philippa, my good friend and ex of thirty years ago. She’d died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Luci was distraught, devastated. She still is - I don’t know how you can move on from something like that. When she told me what had happened I felt as though I’d been kicked hard in the stomach.

I carried on with the tour in some kind of haze. I did the best I could and more than got away with it but there was always a veil of grief and concern for Luci and the grandchildren. And there was always a bit in the set especially for Philippa. No one would have known but I was saying goodbye with a huge crashing and wailing guitar interlude. By the end of the tour she was gone.

The tour ended in the middle of July. I reached the end of my tether earlier in the month in a hotel restaurant in Salt Lake City. I didn’t cause a scene or throw anything - I wasn’t even rude to the waiter - it wasn’t his fault after all. I just came to a private realisation that I’d had enough. 

It was lunchtime and I thought I’d better get something to eat even though I really couldn’t face it. I was tired of driving and there was nothing within walking distance so I went to the restaurant in the ridiculously jumped-up hotel where I was staying. There was nothing on the menu that I could imagine myself eating. In fact it was all quite off-putting. The word smothered featured prominently in the descriptions of the various entrees and all around me diners were being served with plates of glistening disgustingness.

A toasted cheese sandwich - you can’t go wrong with a toasted cheese sandwich, it’s comfort food, just what was needed. So that’s what I ordered. First the waiter brought out a bread roll. ‘Here’s your complimentary bread roll’ he said, and placed a side plate in front of me with a huge, doughy roll overhanging the sides. It looked like Donald Trump’s head. Then an acre of French fries on an oval plate, and finally two thick triangles of toasted white bread with orange and yellow goo oozing out from between them. All the orange, yellow and white food groups were represented.

I rearranged everything on the plates to make it look like I’d eaten some of it because it wasn’t the waiter’s fault and I didn’t want to spread my misery around. I paid the bill and left feeling like I might easily start crying.

The beginning of a tour is usually great fun, the expectation, the excitement - that This Is Really Happening feeling. The hotel rooms are fun - it’s an adventure, a jag, a beano, and you’re on the lam, a fugitive from the tedium of daily life. But this time, after about four months of checking in and out of of Ramada Inns, Best Westerns, Crowne Plazas, Holiday Inns and the odd off-brand nightmare, the novelty of this air-conditioned gypsy lifestyle started to wear a bit thin. Another hotel room, energy saving light bulbs putting out their eerie, uncomfortable neon glow, loneliness, silence (save for the air conditioner) or the nonsensical jabber of the TV. The adventure, the comical jag, is long gone, and in the morning there’ll probably be Starbucks.

It dawned on me that I was terribly homesick.

The shows were fine, better than just fine, but everything in between was torture. I was pulled over in Ohio by a fresh faced policeman, somewhere between Toledo and Cleveland. Apparently I was doing eighty seven miles an hour. The speed limit was sixty five. The policeman wanted to know where I was headed. They’re not supposed to ask that. He seemed concerned - ‘You look very tired’ he said, ‘I just want to know that you’ve got somewhere to go.’

It occurred to me later that it must have looked as though I was living in my car.

I got to Rochester, New York, played the last show. As I was finishing up the soundcheck a woman walked in who looked like Amy. It was Amy. She’d come to help me get home. Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express were playing a secret late night show around the corner. We got up and did some tunes with them and it was like my very own end of tour party.

It was great being home. I love not having to be anywhere. I hung out at Supernatural in Hudson and at the HiLo here in Catskill. I’d have my two espressos and whole mornings would drift by with nothing achieved or expected. I had a trip to England looming but that wasn’t until near the end of August- I had to clear my mother’s house and put it up for sale to pay her care home fees.

I’d speak to her on the phone as often as I could - it wasn’t always easy with the time change. Sometimes she asked me to speak up, accused me of mumbling, even though I was braying into the phone in an effort to be heard. Other times she was in a good mood and she’d tell me how she was running a police station - ‘I’m the world’s worst person for this job but I’m doing the best I can’. She was looking forward to me coming over and so was I.

The care home called and told me she was refusing to get out of bed and refusing to eat. They’d put her on end of life care. They were ready with the tranquilisers and morphine and whatever else to ease her passing.

British Airways wanted over two thousand dollars to change my ticket so I wrote that off and got the first flight I could, Air India to Heathrow. When I got off the plane and turned my phone back on there was a text from Luci - call me as soon as the plane lands. My mother died shortly after I got on the plane. They told her I was coming and that made her very happy. She went to sleep and never woke up. A perfect way to go but I wish I’d got to see her.

Amy came over and a month went by planning the funeral and sorting out the house. My mother had bought and paid for her own funeral - she said we wouldn’t want to be bothered with it, being distraught with grief and so on (You will be distraught with grief won’t you?!!?) I had to practically ransack the house to find her will. I found it in a drawer with a roll of wallpaper, a garden trowel and a box of broken pencils. There was nothing about her funeral wishes in there apart from the name of an undertaker who had stopped working with the plan and passed it on to a company in Sutton Coldfield.

My mother was laid out in her room at the care home and nobody knew what to do with her so I drove over to Luci’s house and got on the phone to the Sutton Coldfield funeral plan company which turned out to be a call centre in the West Midlands:
‘First of all let me just express how deeply sorry I am that Mum has sadly passed.’
I’d got the rookie, he was reading off a script in a thick Black Country accent.
‘I just need to get some details - now when exactly did Mum sadly pass?’
‘And where did Mum sadly pass?’
I started to join in - ‘Now let me see... where exactly did Mum sadly pass...’
Luci started giggling in the background and I had to turn my own laughter into sobs - ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this right now, you’ll have to speak to my daughter.’
I passed the phone to Luci who got the full treatment and did the best she could:
‘Now, first let me say how deeply sorry I am that Nan has sadly passed...’
My mother would have been rolling around in hysterics by this point.

In the meantime a tour of Australia and New Zealand was fast becoming a reality I could hardly deal with. I can’t say I’ve been stricken by grief but I’ve been feeling quietly fucked-up. My mother was very old, she was ninety three, she’d lived a long and fulfilling life. Philippa was only sixty one. She died on the Cayman Islands. A photo taken four hours early shows her looking fit and radiantly beautiful. To me she was an immortal. Her passing followed so closely by my mother’s have left me somehow silently and coldly shaken to my core.

It’s going to take a while to get beyond all this. I’m hoping this trip to New Zealand and Australia will mark a new beginning. I haven’t been there for thirty eight years and I must admit to being somewhat slightly terrified. And I’m feeling a great responsibility to stay alive for everyone’s sake.

I’m flying to Los Angeles tomorrow to start the adventure.

Photo by Ted Barron

Friday, 18 May 2018

All Tours Start In Toronto

All tours start in Toronto. At least my last lot of touring before this lot started in Toronto. I remember it well - the agonizing panic of not knowing what the hell I was going to play, the wishing I written some half decent songs instead of frittering my life away in some adverse build up to this one great moment of failure...
In the end it went well, but then it usually does because it doesn’t really have much choice. It somehow has to because I couldn’t live with myself if it didn’t.
This time the touring part of the tour actually started in Toronto. But even though I find the whole idea of playing locally utterly terrifying, the prospect of setting off to play fifteen shows across the un-United States without first checking that both me and the equipment are going to work seemed much worse, so I kicked things off a few days earlier at the Hilo, our wonderful cafe bar here in Catskill.
Normally I have a psychological safety net: if this thing fucks up, if I humiliate myself with a dismal and disastrous performance it’s ok because this town, this venue, these people, will all be history one hundred miles down the road, and I need never go back. Out of sight, out of mind.
But not so with the local gig.
It went well which is fortunate because I come here for my espresso every othe day (alternating with Supernatural in Hudson). If it hadn’t I think I would have cancelled the tour and moved house instead.
I made one major change: I was using my modified Telecaster for the electric guitar bits, the one I used on the last lot of touring. After the Hilo I decided to take the big green Microfrets instead, and that’s what I’ve been playing since Toronto. The Microfrets is a scary proposition, I once gave it to Amy to play when she broke a string . She handed it back within th tears in her eyes:
‘How do you play this thing?’
I played a show in Seattle a few years back with various members of the Minus 5 including Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck. When the Microfrets broke a string Peter offered to change it while I played a different guitar. He never came back. We found him in the dressing room with the Microfrets on his lap still minus one string. He had tears in his eyes:
‘How do you string this thing?’
The strings are unevenly spaced, the top string often goes dead and produces a blick blick sound and sometimes it gets caught under one of the back pick up screws and goes plink plink. The bottom string needs constant attention because of the ludicrous tune-o-matic nut, an invention designed to ensure perfect intonation regardless of the fact that a barre chord instantly negates the entire concept. I tried taking it off and replacing it with a conventional nut but it didn’t sound the same so I put it back and resigned myself to constant maintenance. It has a tendency to vibrate loose and occasionally something falls apart - usually minutes before a live radio show - but it’s worth it because nothing sounds quite like the big green guitar, the Microfrets, or The Melon as a friend of mine once christened it.

And of course it won’t have escaped the attention of anyone with an eye for detail that the Microfrets matches the green of my new album cover. It’s all in the detail.
That was a freaky business. A friend of mine, Clif Eddens runs a neon factory. He kept telling me I should come and make a neon something and the idea really appealed to me so when it came to making the artwork for Construction Time & Demolition it was the obvious thing to do - a big, randomly shaped green neon illuminating a strange collection of paintings and paraphernalia including my friend John Foster’s old wooden step ladder and (if you look very carefully) his black 1970’s dial telephone.
I assembled the whole thing in the basement of John Foster’s house down in Maryland. John photographed the installation and turned it into the cover art. We spent five hours in the basement bathed in the green nuclear neon glow, and when we came out everything was pink. The sun was going down and we rushed outside to marvel at the cosmically over-pink sunset. John’s sixteen year old daughter looked at the two of us and asked if this was what taking acid was like. We told her it very likely was but we couldn’t say for sure.

At the first show, in Toronto, audience members were perturbed by the minimal set up and several of them asked the promoter where the band was. Fortunately there were no complaints by the end. It’s a different experience - it transcends the solo/duo/full band nonsense. I hate the term full band. I’ve spent years combatting the idiotic dictate that goes something like if it’s this good solo imagine what it’ll be like with a full band... It doesn’t always follow - some artists can’t bring it on without back up, others can. You have to adjust the dynamic to play solo - you can’t get as loud or as full but you can go lower. Sometimes when I’m singing I’m not actually playing anything much at all, just the odd single note here and then so that when I play a full chord it sounds big by comparison. It’s an illusion and it requires a great deal of concentration to pull it off which is why I’ve always got pissed off when there’s talking in the audience while I’m playing. Not that there is anymore - sometimes the silence is quite eerie. It’s intimate and it’s dangerous, tenuous - it could all just come apart...

The sound engineer in Toronto reminded me that we’d met before - he played drums for Andre Williams on a UK tour and when they came to Brighton I did their sound. I tried not to look worried as I asked him how it was but I was relieved when he told me they’d heard a recording of the show made by someone in the audience and it had sounded great. And that night he did the same for me.
I don’t know how I got through the first few days. Toronto to Detroit was a fairly easy drive though it rained and I felt tired. At the border most of the gates were closed. A big sign said Welcome To The United States and underneath a row of illuminated signs said CLOSED.

Third Man Records in Detroit was everything I hoped it would be and the show was good but difficult for me because of an annoying twit at the front who kept holding his phone next to the power block in my pedalboard and filming my foot while the phone transmitted massive interference into my amp. In between and in the quiet bits he shouted requests and suggestions and turning around to take selfies with me in the background. 
John Krautner opened the show alone with nothing more than a nylon strung guitar with a microphone in front of it. The twit joined in loudly with bad harmonies. John told me afterwards the guy had been annoying.
After the show he cornered me (the twit that is) and told me he was my biggest fan. I remonstrated with him, said his behaviour was disruptive. He told me I was being a dick. 
A perfect Wow & Flutter moment.

Most of the time I feel like I’m just about getting away with it - it’s a shabby old one man operation, a patched-up, mend and make do traveling fairground. I should make my entrance in a cloud of diesel fumes and electrical sparks, I probably do, and most nights something needs repairing.
The rain started after the show in Chicago. I had to drive to Louisville, Kentucky, and be there in time for a radio show at lunchtime the following day. I had the best show I’ve ever had in Chicago and by the time I left the Burlington Bar it was already the following day, two in the morning. I had a hotel booked in Lafayette, Indiana, a couple of hours down the road. I thought it would get me out of Chicago, give me a head start the next day.
I’d forgotten how bad the roads are in Indiana. After a four and a half hour white knuckle drive through road works and torrential rain I checked into the hotel in full daylight. The desk clerk told me to enjoy my nap. I crashed out fully clothed for three hours, got back in the car and carried on driving - eighty miles an hour on Indiana’s broken roads, all the way to the Kentucky state line. That sounds quite glamorous. I stopped at Starbuck’s for breakfast.

I can’t recount all the steps that brought me from Indiana to a Premier Inn in Worcester in the heart of middle England where I’m seeing in my sixty fourth birthday. I’m amazed that I’ve got away with it for all these years, burning down city after city as Amy put it the other day. If you’re around I’ll see you in Bristol for my birthday, or Leeds, or Cromer... or maybe Cambridge or Brighton... And most definitely at the 100 Club on May 24th (that’s next Thursday - stick it in your diary) or if you can’t make that then Colchester, Ramsgate or Leicester. 
Always playing in a town near you!

And next month back in the USA for another six weeks or so, coast to coast!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

And Introducing Bryce McCafferty...

I should be strutting about in a fur hat, large mirrored shades and possibly a cloak - a pop svengali, top producer and engineer with a sound coveted by many and achieved by none - because I'm the man who produced and engineered the new Amy Rigby album, a rough, tough psychedelic garage record, her first solo album in twelve years, and her best yet.

But I couldn't really carry it off - my head would itch in the fur hat, the mirrored shades would be covered in fingerprints, and even though I might quite like it I'd feel ridiculous wearing a cloak. So instead I've cast myself in dual roles as Bryce McCafferty, the dependable but tempermental bass playing sideman, and as Amy's erstwhile road manager who I imagine as a sort of Jon Voight character - buckskin jacket, silk scarf, cowboy boots, and a good foot or so taller than myself.

I set the stage, switch on the amps, tune up the twelve string, put the capo on the second fret and report back to Ms Rigby that all is ready. Then I walk back on as Bryce McCafferty and pick up the bass guitar.

Bryce doesn't give a fuck. He's the king of crass. He watches as another more willing band member backs the truck into a bollard or a low brick wall: 'Oooh! I saw that coming - bang goes the deposit!'

A guitar goes missing: '...yeah, I saw that in the dressing room as we were leaving last night and sort of wondered about it.'

'I'm not setting foot on that stage until I get my per diem - I'll do the soundcheck but there's no way I'm going on for the show until I get paid.'

The band leaves the stage with the applause still ringing. Band members metaphorically patting themselves and each other on the back, saying the dumb things that euphoric band members are apt to say. But not Bryce - Bryce is too cool for that - 'Here, did you get your per diem yet? I still didn't get mine...'

Bryce on the right wondering where his per diem went. With Ms Rigby and the gainfully employed Jeremy Grites
Bryce... at turns scruffy, unshaven, abstracted or satorially elegent. Reprehensible but quietly dependable, even when he's drunk. A Thursday gig might see him in grubby jeans, Saturday nights find him fully suited and booted.

Bryce turns and looks at the drummer: 'Who is it this week then? Have we worked together before?'

On this tour Ms Rigby is going through more drummers than Spinal Tap - there's nothing dark or lurid about it, it's just that unlike Bryce they all have day jobs.

'Ground rules, there have to be ground rules...'

I love Bryce McCafferty! I only invented him because promoters were announcing me as a featured musician on Amy's shows, and although I find that very flattering I was worried that it might take the heat off when I come back and do my own shows next month. Because next month I'll have a new album out and I'll be back to boring old me.

I'm going to miss Brycey.

pre-order the new Wreckless Eric album from Amazon

Catch Bryce McCafferty and a gainfully employed drummer on tour with the incomparable Amy Rigby:

08 NEWHAVEN CT Cafe Nine
10 NORTHAMPTON MA The Parlor Room
15 VIENNA VA Jammin Java
18 CHARLESTON WV Culture Center Theater
25 HULL UK O'Riley's
26 MANCHESTER UK BBC 6 Music Marc Riley Show
27 BRIGHTON UK Prince Albert
28 LEICESTER UK Musician
29 BRISTOL UK Thunderbolt
30 LONDON UK Betsey Trotwood

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Not Celebrating Presidents Day

I was on the phone to my mother - they had to put her in a wheelchair and install her in the office to take the call.

'I'm not surprised we're in such a mess - the most powerful nation in the world is being run from this office and it's full of old toffee tins.'

It's Presidents Day and there's a moron in the White House, an old toffee that's got loose from the rest of the tin. Not much to celebrate there. I imagine the cunt will be spending the day at Mar-a-Lago, playing a round of golf in a soggy adult diaper.

Amy's not celebrating Presidents Day by playing some tunes on WFMU.

Plenty to celebrate there - her new album The Old Guys is out at the end of the week and it's already getting unprecedented revues and airplay. She says she hasn't sensed such a buzz about a new Amy Rigby album since Diary Of A Mod Housewife.

I feel proud of her. And proud of me too because I engineered and produced the new record. I gave her a garage band edge and helped put a tougher frame around the mature, contemporary version of a unique and timeless songwriter. Her past five albums are a hard act to follow and I took the responsibility very seriously.

And there I go, making it all about me - I could be the President.

Her tour starts on Friday so we've been rehearsing. There are four different drummers involved so it's a little confusing. It's one drummer per night, not some Allman Brothers spectacular, apart from a couple of nights when she's more or less solo with a bit of bass and guitar playing assistance from the chauffeur. And the Omnichord - mustn't forget that - I'm playing the Omnichord too. I reckon this addition lifts me into multi-instrumentalist / utility man status.

And there I go again - it's all about me. Again. I could write speeches for the President.

I've just decided to do Amy's tour under the name Brice McCafferty because promoters keep announcing me as some kind of feature which is somewhat insulting to Amy because she certainly doesn't need a feature to prop her up. I'm going to wear a suit and keep a low profile. And be very afraid because one of the drummers is Steve Goulding, the man who played drums on Whole Wide World. 

I hope I'm up to it.

But there's no room for self doubt, it's Presidents Day after all, and as Amy's about to tell you on WFMU, The President Can't Read. It hasn't stopped him though. It just goes to show - any cunt born in this great land can become The President Of The United States Of America.

Go fuck yourself Donald Trump - heart attack on the golf course please, and die crapping your diaper.

Let's hear it for The Old Guys!

AMY RIGBY tour dates:

23 HUDSON NY The Spotty Dog
24 BROOKLYN NY El Cortez
28 HARRISBURG PA Note Bistro & Wine Bar

03 PHILADELPHIA Dawson Street Pub
04 CAMBRIDGE MA Atwood's Tavern
09 NEW HAVEN CT Cafe Nine
10 NORTHAMPTON MA The Parlor Room
15 VIENNA VA Jammin Java
18 CHARLESTON WV Culture Center Theater
25 HULL O'Riley's
26 BBC 6 MUSIC The Marc Riley Show
27 BRIGHTON Prince Albert
28 LEICESTER Musician
29 BRISTOL Thunderbolt
30 LONDON Betsy Trotwood